Thursday, October 10, 2013

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Been There, Seen That

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a group of friends in a van (most of whom look a little long in the tooth to be talking about borrowing daddy's car) travel to the woods for a little r&r only to experience weird goings on and encounter an ancient evil. Bonus points if you anticipated dialogue like "he's coming right back", "I swear it's going to be okay" and/or "is there anybody out there?".

Yes, EYES OF THE WOODS is yet another riff on the same genre tropes we've seen trotted out in an endless parade of slasher/demonic possession/zombie flicks over the last four decades – and, despite a wealth of material to draw from (ie, rip off) it's not executed very well.

Opening in the 1500s (in sepia no less, though all resemblances to THE WIZARD OF OZ end there), EYES begins in a small village where "medicines are scarce" and an evil force has been taking the children despite the local minister's attempt to heal the kids with the power of prayer. When one villager makes a pact with the devil – complete with pentagram and shape shifting – the townsfolk take their period Party City costumes and confront the beast (played by Walter Phelan), only to end up with a bunch of cracked skulls and slashed up flesh. Actually, I shouldn't mock... by the end of the flick I was looking back on this first fifteen minutes with fondness. It's the highlight of an otherwise tedious experience.

Fast forward to "PRESENT DAY" and our aforementioned "students" are headed into the woods, though it's a bit unclear as to why. In place of any actual characterization we simply get cardboard cutouts like Goth Girl, Tough Chick, Egghead (she reads and wears glasses!), and rather than giving a crap about them you simply end up wondering how or why these people even became friends. After the requisite encounter with the creepy local at the gas station ("How much we owe you for the gas?" "How much you GOT city boy?!") they reach the woods where things soon begin going wrong as Kelly (Lira Kellerman) wanders off in the middle of the night, bodies of water seem to appear and disappear, watches and phones stop working and the remaining "students" get separated.

It's here – at the 45 minute mark – where EYES crosses the fine line from disinteresting (my notes include mentions about making a cheese sandwich or having "another beer") to laughable as the remaining characters spend approximately 25 minutes wandering through the woods shining their flashlights through the fog and shouting each other's names. How many times do they shout each other's names? I'm glad you asked. Let's just say that if you plan on turning it into a drinking game you might want to have poison control and/or 911 on speed dial.

The monster from the first fifteen minutes eventually returns but by then it's too late to salvage much interest in what the box has the chutzpah to call "an edge-of-your-seat fright-mare destined to become a cult classic ... in the tradition of The Evil Dead and Jeepers Creepers". (Jeepers Creepers?!) Played far too straight for its own good, EYES is neither fun nor scary and despite a mere 79 minute running time draaaaggggs its characters and the viewer to the what-I-guess-is-supposed-to-be-shocking conclusion.

With three directors (including one who gets the dreaded "Completion footage directed by..." credit) it's easy to see why EYES OF THE WOODS feels disjointed and occasionally haphazard. Too many chefs – and not enough original ideas – conspire to doom the project. – Dan Taylor

EYES OF THE WOODS is available at Amazon.

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